By Jessica E. Lapidus © 2002
The sun was setting in The Middle of Nowhere. The Jeep’s right rear tire lay exhausted on the ground next to me while the bare break drum bearing one-quarter of the car’s weight groaned against the pavement. The tire had had a slow leak since Sacramento, and I had been stopping every 250-or-so miles to fill it. I was in a rush to get out of Nebraska, because as I was approaching the central part of the state, a handsome young man in a Pinto rolled up alongside me and yelled,
"Your tire’s low!"
and frantically waved at the back of my car. I got off at the next exit and stared at my tire, which stared back at me, depressed and sad. It was getting dark so I hastened to remove the deflated tire and replace it with the donut. The Jeep was loaded with bags and boxes containing my entire life, and when I was ready to put on the donut, there was not enough room between the brake drum and the pavement. I looked skeptically at the jack. I was sure that it was taking all it could with the 4,000 pounds on top of it, but I took a deep breath and cranked it once…twice…a third tenuous time and…SMASH!! The Jeep and all it’s weight came crashing down on the exit ramp, the brake drum actually bounced a few times before settling.
A trail of ear-scorching expletives came out of my mouth, and I even surprised myself with my own vulgarity. Looking over the highway, I saw that there were no cars, no people, nothing. I was decidedly in the middle of nowhere.
Gingerly opening the back of the Jeep, I began to look for the flashlight as the sky quickly turned from lavender to dark blue, but became quickly deflated as I realized it was buried under some bags. I walked around the car a few times, checking the signal on my cell phone, and one tiny dot told me that it was a lost cause. The stripped jack lay buried under the car, which was looking weaker by the second. My watch read 8:15 PM, and my stomach warned me that it was time for dinner. Feeling the familiar sting of tears behind my eyes, I noticed a glimmering pair of headlights coming off the exit. Nebraska State Police. I started jumping up and down, frantically waving my arms until I had been spotted. The officer parked next to me and as he approached, his platinum buzz-cut and bright blue eyes shining, I tucked my Star of David pendant into my shirt.
"Good evening, sir," I said, running my hands through my hair.
"Good evening, miss. A little car trouble?"
Talking way too fast, I told him about the tire and the stripped jack, the brake drum slamming against the pavement, and about the last 200 miles I had driven from Denver, Colorado to this small town in Bumblefuck, USA.
"Where am I?" I asked, as the cop reached into his trunk and retrieved an industrial strength car jack.
We made small talk about cross-country travel and Jeep Cherokees as he jacked up my car and I helped him to ease on the donut. Thoughts of the three ounces of Humboldt’s Finest in my glove compartment flitted around my brain like the lightning bugs zipping through the thick, humid air.
When the car was stable, the officer wished me well and pointed me to an auto repair shop in Aurora, about 10 miles away. I thanked him and got on my way, eager to get my tire repaired, knowing that I would not get too far in a two-ton vehicle riding on three wheels and a 13-year old donut.
When I arrived in Aurora it was 10:00 PM and the auto repair shop was the only thing open. A mulleted man, almost too closely resembling Jake "The Snake" Roberts (who had died some months earlier) patched and attached my tire for $15.
"How far to Lincoln?" I asked, swatting moths from my head.
"Oh, a little ways," he replied, lighting my cigarette and then his own.
"Like…how a ways?"
"About 75 miles or so."
I glanced at my watch. It was 10:45. I groaned along with my stomach.
"You could get there in less than an hour if you know how to drive, miss."
I thanked Jake "The Snake" (as he would henceforth be called in all my recollections), and got on the road. The speed limit in Nebraska is 65 miles per hour. I took the empty highway at 85, some fuzzy country tunes blaring from my busted stereo.
When I arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska it was 11:30. For a capital city and college town, it appeared to be abandoned. I sang along with "Pink Houses" as I drove under the lights of factories in the downtown area. I found a hotel on the outskirts of town, checked in, and drove down the street to the Village Inn, the midwest’s answer to Denny’s. It was 1:00 AM and they were putting up the chairs in the non-smoking section. I found a booth on the other side, ordered a cup of coffee and a grilled cheese with tomato. As I lit a cigarette, two teenage girls walked in, dressed to the midwestern nines in silver and purple dresses, their streaked hair teased beyond the Aqua Net Corporation’s wildest dreams. They sat down in front of me and I watched one of them order a bacon cheeseburger, cheese fries, and a pot of coffee. I watched her simultaneously smoke and eat as I inhaled my grilled cheese with tomato. The acne-faced waiter never brought my ketchup, but instead flirted with the teenage girls. By eavesdropping I learned that it was prom night, and they were just getting a quick bite before heading out to another party where there would be beer. The girl in the silver dress was lamenting her evening to her friend, but loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Man, I want a beer so bad. And I’m fucking pissed off."
She shoved a handful of cheese fries in her mouth, washed them down with a gulp of coffee, and took a drag of her cigarette, all at the same time.
"I mean, man, it’s, like, the biggest night of my entire life, and I can’t even have a beer."
She took a bite of her bacon cheeseburger.
"I can’t wait to get this baby outta me so I can have a fucking beer."
Jessica E. Lapidus is a writer originally from New York City.
October 24, 2002
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